Daniel Boone Civil War class student Erika Sessis finding out what "slower than molasses means" while learning about Civil War-era food. (Photos by Tony Duncan/Johnson City Press)
When soldiers received their rations for the 1861 Civil War, Terry King said they were given hardtack bread from the Mexican-American War from 14 years before.
King, a history teacher at Daniel Boone High School in Gray, gave more than 40 of his students a similar experience at the sixth installment of his Civil War re-enactment Friday behind the school with year-old hardtack bread from the previous year. Next to a piece made recently, there was no real difference between the aged bread and the “fresh” bread, with a texture and taste to a thick, old, saltine cracker.
Vince Sweeney, one of the re-enactors in the 23rd Infantry, suggested one way to make the bread easier to consume.
“You keep a bit of it in your cheek and let your saliva soften it,” Sweeney said.
He joked to King who was passing the break out to kids in paper bags, that he found a soft spot, a 16-penny nail. Sweeney, King and four other re-enactors were dressed up in Civil War-era garb, including full wool uniforms on a toasty Friday. They also marched and set up “company street,” or a row of tents where the lower-ranking soldiers would have stayed, just near a spot where a few cooking fires were, as well as the space where horses Lancer, Rebel and Sallie were kept.
The goal of the entire day was to educate students in a different way, King said, by showing the lot what it would have been like to live and survive in such a historical time.
“I enjoy getting to see the students enjoying this, often for the first time,” he said. “It’s preferable to the classroom. I wish we could have class out here every day, but it’s not plausible.”
Economics teacher Sara Faulkner-Hinkle said history is quite a popular topic at the school, with yearly field trips becoming highly popular with the history students. For the past few years, she said, they brought about 40 students to Nashville to view the original Emancipation Proclamation as well as the 13th Amendment.
One student Boone’s emphasis on history has really had an effect on is 17-year-old Thomas Black, who is the only student at Boone who is also a re-enactor. When ask if he was a snob about occasionally seeing cell phones, modern clothes and other 21st-century technology around the camp, he said he wasn’t at all concerned because he was happy to see so many people interested in the Civil War era, regardless of how well he and his fellow re-enactors try to hold to the time period.
“We try to stay as period as possible,” Black said.
But students like King see it as a special tool for educating students about history.
“It shows them what it’s like,” Black said. “You can read all you want in a book, but it’s nothing like seeing re-enactments.”
For food preparation, students formed groups and were given the task of working on some part of the constantly made snacks. Some were tasked with cutting onions and potatoes, some with frying pork fat over the fire, some with using the “drippings” from the pork fat to mix with cornmeal and prepare a dish called “sloosh,” as well as the preparation of cornmeal Johnny Cakes, which were covered well with molasses and butter.
Black’s bread and butter is to talk about the weaponry used in the Civil War. He says $800 can land someone a gun from the era of the Civil War, and that’s just what he’s done over the past years since joining the re-enactors. Inside one of the officers’ tents in the camp, Black showed off nearly a dozen of his guns and ran through how technology changed in the firearms as the war carried on.
“Especially at the beginning of the war, they were arming their men with whatever they could get,” Black said of some of the more dangerous and antiquated models of the time. “As the war progressed, they started arming their me with better stuff.”
Because the battles were fought in the South, and the uniforms were often so hot, Black said at weekend events, with sometimes 10,000 people running around like in a re-enactment of Gettysburg, his peers need to be conscious of how much water they drink. It’s not uncommon, he said, for people to have to pull out from the events for reasons of overheating.
Though senior Katelyn Del Castillo isn’t a re-enactor like Black and will be going to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville for nutrition next year, she loves the history she’s been learning in King’s classes, saying she’s taken six, including the ever-popular Civil War class that had the students out Friday. The day’s event behind the school wasn’t the first for Del Castillo, as she said she took part in the re-enactment last year, too.
“This is a good change,” Del Castillo said about being inside and seeing history around her. “I feel like I learn more when I get to see it with my own eyes.”
Local re-enactors are recruiting, Black said, and anyone interested in joining the ranks can call 863-5247.
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